The ovaries are two small organs, one on each side of a woman’s uterus. It is normal for a small cyst (a fluid-filled sac or pouch) to develop on the ovaries. In most cases, these cysts are harmless and go away on their own. In other cases, cysts may cause problems and may need treatment.

Types of Ovarian Cysts
Ovarian cysts are quite common in women during their childbearing years. A woman can develop one cyst or many cysts. Ovarian cysts can vary in size.

There are many different types of ovarian cysts. Most cysts are benign (not cancerous).

Functional Cysts
The most common type of ovarian cyst is called a functional cyst. It develops from tissue that changes in the normal process of ovulation.

Dermoid Cysts
Dermoid cysts are made up of different kinds of tissue from other parts of the body, such as skin, hair, fat, and teeth. They may be found on both ovaries.

Cystadenomas are cysts that develop from cells on the outer surface of the ovary. They usually are benign, but they can grow very large and cause pain.

Endometriomas are cysts that form when endometrial tissue grows in the ovaries.

Most ovarian cysts are small, do not cause symptoms, and go away on their own. Some may cause symptoms because of twisting, bleeding, and rupture. They may cause a dull or sharp ache in the abdomen and pain during sexual intercourse.

An ovarian cyst often is found during a routine pelvic exam. When your doctor detects an enlarged ovary, he or she may do other tests. Some of these tests provide further information that is helpful in planning treatment.

  • Ultrasound: A procedure that uses sound waves to create pictures of the internal organs that can be viewed on a screen.
  • Laparoscopy: A surgical procedure that allows a doctor to look directly inside the body.
  • Blood tests: Tests to measure substances in the blood and help confirm the diagnosis.

If your cyst is not causing any symptoms, your doctor may simply monitor it for one to two months. Most functional cysts go away on their own after one or two menstrual cycles.

If your cyst is large or causing symptoms, your doctor may suggest surgery. The extent and type of surgery that is needed will depend on several factors:

  • Size and type of cyst
  • Your age
  • Your symptoms
  • Your desire to have children

Ovarian cysts are common in women during their childbearing years. Although most cysts are harmless and go away on their own, your doctor will want to keep track of any cyst to be sure that it does not grow and cause problems.

This excerpt from ACOG’s Patient Education Pamphlet is provided for your information. It is not medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for visiting your doctor. If you need medical care, have any questions, or wish to receive the full text of this Patient Education Pamphlet, please contact your obstetrician-gynecologist.

To ensure the information is current and accurate, ACOG titles are reviewed every 18 months.

© Copyright November 2005 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists